MARC CHASE: A real-life superhuman, from Valpo no less

2013-09-19T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: A real-life superhuman, from Valpo no lessMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
September 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Comic books and Hollywood famously provide heroes whose superhuman bodies withstand incredible violence — whose physical prowess is matched only by strength of character.

It's easier for creators of such fictional characters to write the story lines after studying the true-life stories of people like Valparaiso's Isaac Suman.

Suman's story reminds us why history is so important — why real-life legends should be celebrated.

A century and a half ago today, Col. Isaac Suman, commander of the 9th Indiana Infantry, led hundreds of volunteers from Porter, LaPorte and other Hoosier counties in the Civil War's second bloodiest battle.

Georgia's Battle of Chickamauga — and the 34,000 dead, wounded and missing that resulted — often is overshadowed by the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, which also turned 150 earlier this summer.

Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle of America's bloodiest war, ended in Union victory in Pennsylvania.

A few months later, the Battle of Chickamauga ended in Union defeat, but not before incredible feats of bravery.

Accounts of the 9th Indiana hold that Suman and a portion of his regiment were overrun and captured by Confederate forces as the Hoosiers worked to protect the Union Army retreat at Chickamauga.

Suman never went down easily, though. He is said to have answered demands for surrender by ordering a volley of lead bullets fired at their would-be captors. The men of the 9th escaped and joined the rest of the retreating Union lines.

Suman had some training for this kind of cool toughness earlier in the war.

About nine months earlier, on New Year's Eve 1862, then Lt. Col. Suman rode among the ranks of his men in the face of brutal Confederate charges and gunfire at the Battle of Stones River in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Eyewitness accounts indicate that as he shouted out commands, a Confederate bullet hit Suman's arm in an area of the battlefield known as Hell's Half Acre. He wrapped up the wound and continued commanding his men.

When a second bullet lodged in Suman's rib cage, an Army chaplain moved the colonel away from the fighting for medical care, a very loose term during the Civil War. The medical care entailed the chaplain prying the bullet from Suman's ribs, a quick bandage job and Suman riding back into battle.

At the end of the day on Dec. 31, 1862, the brigade that included Suman's 9th Indiana was the only portion of the Union line that didn't retreat in confusion. Stones River would end in Union victory the next day — and would be ranked among the 10 bloodiest battles of the war.

Bullet wounds and near-brushes with captivity were only part of Suman's selfless story. As the war was ending in 1865, he turned down a promotion to brigadier general, noting he didn't serve his country to obtain honorary titles.

Instead, he came home to Valparaiso, where he served for a time as mayor.

Take a moment to look at Suman's photo and share his story with your children. You're looking at a real superhuman whose accomplishments rival anything contained in a comic book or film reel.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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